Saturday, September 01, 2007


(NOTE: According to the Associated Press-Ipsos poll released on August 22, one in four Americans was unable to read any books last year. Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has called for an end to this literate blight: “The richest and most powerful nation cannot deny its citizens the right to books.” The Venezuelan and Cuban governments have joined forces to supply unread Americans with fiction and nonfiction airdrops in strategic locations throughout the continental United States. “If our plans are successful, we’ll do runs to Hawaii and Alaska as well,” said Chavez. “Who knows? We might also include Guam.”)

When Summer Feels Like Winter (photograph of Fendi copyright 2006 by Caroline Weber.)

August is the month when book publishing slows to the languid motion of the Australian Crawl done in tepid waters. Editors and agents take vacations to places where there are no bookstores or people who use “bildungsroman” and “hermeneutic” in polite conversation. Aloe-based SPF 30 is the garment of choice. About two weeks of lazing about is all they can take before they rush back to their desks, and call and e-mail with unreasonable demands for the next season’s manuscripts.

Those left behind use this time to read books. Everyone involved in publishing has more than a couple of books on the bedside night-stand. There are stacks of books in the hall, under the dining room table, over by the front door, and dumped on the desk. Cookbooks and dictionaries share the same shelves in the kitchen, not by an aesthetic decision but by available room. Guests to the homes of publishing professionals are told that the obstacle course is an occupational hazard. Fiddlesticks. We enjoy this mess.

Besides the books bought by personal choice, there are the books given by the people who wrote or produced them, ARCs (advance reader copies) pilfered from sales reps at trade shows, and gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives who thought you might like a certain title on account of, “you like books.” The stacks teeter until another bit of floor space is found, and a new tower of books is constructed.

I have three stacks of unread books separated into fiction, nonfiction, and reference. The fiction is doled out for good behavior, like chocolates to unruly child who listens for once. (Okay, I cheated and read the appendices to SUITE FRANÇAISE by Irène Némirovsky, but will stay away from the chapters until enough billable hours are worked to pay the rent.) Nonfiction depends on mood, and sometimes they can languish for a year before being read. Most of the reference books are about writing and must be tackled everyday. I read books about writing to know what my clients are reading or not reading, and for the kick in the pants needed to be at the keyboard everyday.

Writers write about writing when they can’t think of anything else to write about, or decide to put their suspicions and opinions in print to see what happens. Milan Kundera, Czech siren singer of THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING and THE JOKE and IMMORTALITY, follows the novel as art in THE CURTAIN: AN ESSAY IN SEVEN PARTS (NY: Harper Collins, 2006). His investigation is far from an arid academic treatise, his definition of the curtain being what separates us from what is really going on in the world, and the novelist’s job to tear down that pleated rag. With well-considered pleasure, he explains the birthplace of the novel in Cervantes and Rabelais, recommends other writers who should be read, and takes a side trip into the state of Middle Europe. Kundera’s continued enthusiasm for books and living deserves to be rewarded with thousands of readers, even though he is stone cold wrong about Franz Kafka not being a Czech or Prague writer.

Israeli writer Amos Oz cut loose his THE STORY BEGINS: ESSAYS ON LITERATURE (NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999) on account of his fascination with beginnings. Instead of ramblings about the whole of a novel or short story, he looks only at the auspicious openings, and uses examples by Fontane, Agnon, Kafka, Checkov, Marquez, and others. “Beginning to tell a story is like making a pass at a total stranger in a restaurant,” Oz says, and his insights into the machinery behind effective storytelling is worth reading six or seven times a year.


New quotes have come in for THE DOG from Northern California, Canada, and another foreign country. None were the result of payola, honest. Only threats.

“THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET provided the amps and booster cables to help me write more clearly and concisely. Sal’s quirky style gave me the confidence in my quirky style to jump head first into my next writing project.”


“Congratulations on a very fine book. I’ve read THE DOG with much admiration, and often amusement. It’s a pleasure to see that the canine is out there winning prizes and kudos—it deserves them all. You pack a hell of a lot into your slender commonplace book! Your love of good writing comes through every paragraph and joke and nugget of advice. Any writer will find a great deal that’s useful here.”

—Cynthia Flood, award-winning writer of MAKING A STONE OF THE HEART

Posted on Amazon France:

Lecutre obligatoire pour tout ecrivain future, 22 juillet 2007
Brent Gregston

Un vrai bijou. C’est une bonne methode pour tout ceux qui veulent non seulement ecrire mais aussi reussir a surmonter le defi difficile de se faire publier.
Conseils sur tout le parcours: trouver un editeur, adresser les problemes souvent rencontres, difficultes contractuelles.
Ce livre fournit egalement de bons tuyaux sur l’approche vis-a-vis les la publicite.
Mais il contient aussi beaucoup d’inspiration pour les jeunes ecrivains et aussi des anecdotes et il est tout simplement drole.

NEXT: Chew Toys for the Lonely



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